Across government we’re working to digitise our public-facing services, making them more accessible and easier to use. The transactions we all make as employees also really matter and include things like performance management and checking our payslips. It’s important that we bring this digital approach to our internal processes and systems, making government digital on the inside too.
Last autumn I was presented with an opportunity to help make these services better. In addition to my day job as Chief Operating Officer at the Ministry of Justice, I was asked to look after Shared Services at the Cabinet Office.
At the outset, I agreed to work on three broad priorities as part of John Manzoni’s approach to transforming government.
Firstly, to make further improvements to the service provided by SSCL to a number of departments. The creation of the Single Operating Platform (SOP) has been a major achievement, and it’s now the largest platform of its type in Europe. It has helped us make major savings for the taxpayer. It was introduced as part of an effort to make it possible for people to conduct transactions like the ones I described above. A single operating platform means they can do this all in one place online. It has been successful, but we’ve found that people increasingly want a solution that’s more similar to the digital services they use in their day to day lives.
Secondly, to develop a strategy for the whole of government. This was done last year, and we launched it publicly a few weeks ago. You can find out more here. In summary, we aim to: drive value and efficiency by moving to cloud-based services, to further standardise our processes, and to meet user needs.
The strategy will offer departments a choice of technology platforms to create competition and promote innovation. It also opens up opportunities to start implementing robotics and machine-learning to speed up services and help drive costs down. We’ve already made excellent progress on standardising processes across government in both HR and Finance.
We need to do more to make sure our services are simple to use and offer real benefits to the people who use them. This isn’t just a nice to have. By making it possible for users to self-serve easily, we reduce our reliance on relatively costly contact and processing centres. In other words, self-service is fundamental to realising efficiencies through shared services, and means placing user needs at the heart of our approach.
User research tells us that people want intuitive mobile solutions that measure up to the standards of technology we use in our everyday lives. The Digital Service Standard has led to a massive improvement in the quality of digital services offered to the public. But while the Technology Code of Practice has helped to improve the services we offer staff, those services are often some way from what we would consider acceptable for the public.
We are starting to look at how we bridge that gap. Inevitably that will mean moving internal services towards the Digital Service Standard for public services. These types of platform are increasingly commoditised services, so building an entirely new one for government isn’t the answer. That means we need to use the platforms available to us to provide a great user experience.
We’ll be doing some work on making that happen. Increasingly, civil servants are working flexibly (splitting time between their offices, government hubs and working from home) meaning a mobile solution is best. The vision is that civil servants will be able to claim expenses, book their holidays, and check their pay check where ever they are and in a way that suits them.
I’m really pleased that we’ve now launched the first SOP Mobile offering for staff, firstly at Cabinet Office and then at the Environment Agency. SOP Mobile is browser-based, and we will listen to feedback to improve the user experience. We will also do some beta-testing with off-the-shelf apps to make sure we’ve found the best approach for users. Once we know from users which solution works best, we will look at developing and improving that service.
My third priority is to further develop the capability and relationships of the shared services team. They are now Government Shared Services (GSS), a permanent centre of excellence, rather than a change programme. We’ve also restructured around three director appointments (for Delivery, Strategy and Technology). I’d like to start to build the community of shared services experts around government: there are many unsung heroes who work in this challenging area who we could support more.
I think we’ve made progress in the last few months, and we have a real opportunity to help with the overall transformation of government. Shared Services are important to our people’s experience of work, so getting this right matters.